I bought this book along with Little Girl Gone by Alexandra Burt when I was in the mood for some heart wrenching thrillers. I love a good thriller and a lot of my 2015 reading has been made up of them (which is unusual for me, usually I’m a sci-fi or YA kind of girl. I’m expanding my horizons!). Missing child books seem to be all the rage at the moment and they also seem to be Jane Shemilt’s element.
I read her debut novel, Daughter, earlier in the year and thoroughly enjoyed it (although I’m still, to this day, not sure how I feel about the ending). I had similar mixed, yet equally positive, feelings towards The Drowning Lesson. It deals with the same subject as Daughter, a child has gone missing, but this time the child is a three-month-old baby, not a possibly runaway teen girl. The book is fantastically written, jumping through time periods and between England and Botswana. The movement from times and places never felt forced and there was a natural progression from events leading up to baby Sam’s abduction to after the fact. By the end we settle into one time period, and Emma dealing with the emotions and turmoil of losing her child.
Now, at the beginning of the novel I couldn’t quite see how I could ever like this character. She’s ambitious to a fault, bitter, jealous of any success that is not her own, resentful of her new baby’s ‘faults’ (a large birthmark on his face that later becomes a lifeline when he goes missing). She is thoroughly unlikeable. But it doesn’t make you any less sympathetic to her plight and actually, by the end I think the experiences change her. She’s an evolving character and I think Jane Shemilt writes her well that way. By the end I could say I liked her.
And speaking of the ending. It threw me, completely. I won’t give it away, but suffice to say the mystery of what happens to baby Sam kept me guessing to the last pages. There’s so many characters surrounding Emma, and with so much of the novel taking place through her eyes, that her paranoia becomes your paranoia. Her theories become your theories, even the completely implausible ones. I like to be kept guessing and Jane Shemilt certainly delivers in that.
I can’t comment on setting; Botswana is shown to be a place very rich with culture and variety, but who am I to compare that to what I assume is a very diverse reality?
That aside, I’d recommend it as a read. It is very similar to Daughter in theme, but I don’t think that detracts from it at all. Jane Shemilt clearly writes this kind of story well and, while there are links between the two, Drowning Lesson throws us into a different setting and situation so the similarities become far less prominent. The ending is surprising, the characters are flawed yet believable and the writing is beautiful! I loved it. I got told off for spilling my dinner when I wouldn’t put it down at my family’s house!